The Return (Part 2)
The first thing she is aware of isn’t the strong antiseptic smell of the hospital. It’s not even the steady beep, beep, beep that emanates from something that’s altogether too close to her ear. It’s the deep breathing of some sort of gigantic creature. A fire-spewing dragon, perhaps. That would explain why everything around her is so hot.
It’s a moment later that she realizes the world is enveloped in darkness, a maroon color of sorts, and that she has no control over her arms and legs. She should be panicking, but… Her mind feels too calm and languid to engage in such a reaction.
Am I dead? she wonders briefly with the same airy tone as someone wondering whether their sandwich is turkey or tuna. The soul-crushing fear that follows that pondering dissipates quickly as she decides that a) death should be more than floating immobile in a sea of reddish black, and b) she doesn’t remember dying, or anything close to that. The light grating, grinding sound is still present, fading in and out in a regular pattern.
It’s oddly peaceful here, in this unchanging little world. She’s not afraid, or worried, or even stressed. For some reason, she treats it like it’s some sort of blessing, or miracle, like she doesn’t normally feel like this. She’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
All of a sudden, the grinding noise stops, and there’s a moment of silence before a babble takes its place. Then she’s sliding down a long tunnel, a rushing sensation encompassing her entire body. The fuzziness, like a blanket, lifts from her mind and she finds her fingers responsive again. Her eyelids feel sticky opening, but they do, exposing her to a shocking white light. She blinks, squinting at a dark blob above her.
“The dosage must have been reduced too much,” someone says. “She’s coming ‘round a bit early.”
“Is…is that a bad thing?” questions the person at her side, and he squeezes her hand. Castle.
“Not at all,” the man replies. “This means her body’s stronger than we thought, to wear through the drugs this quickly. It’s a good sign, Mr. Castle.”
“Kate? Kate, can you hear me?” She gazes at her partner dumbly, waiting for his face to come into focus. All that calm is nearly obliterated by the overwhelming need to stare into his deep blue eyes again. “Earl, why isn’t she saying anything? Kate?”
“There may be a little disorientation at first; give her a minute,” the nurse answers.
Castle reaches down and caresses her face, just under her jaw line. “Kate?” The blob shifts, as if looking around. “Where’s Jim?”
“Mr. Beckett slipped out to get something to eat while you were asleep. He said he’d be back before it was time to wake her up.”
Castle’s more in focus now, and she can tell when he nods. “Kate? Kate, if you can hear me, you don’t have to speak. Just tap my hand or something.”
“Ca…stle,” she grinds out.
Relief floods his face. “Kate! Kate, how are you feeling?”
She blinks, pausing, trying to choose the right word. Castle’s frown returns bit by bit as the seconds tick by. “Woozy,” she finally decides, eliciting a smile from Castle and a chuckle from the nurse. “Where...?”
“The hospital,” he supplies quickly, and his grin falters. She can’t fathom why at the moment.
“How much do you remember?”
“Umm...” she racks her brain. “I remember coughing. And there was blood.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Castle tells her gently. “I drove you to the emergency room, and they took you from there.”
“Did I...did I die?” she asks. He looks shocked.
“No, Kate, no, of course not!” He grasps her hand even tighter, a vice-like grip that cuts off circulation more than it comforts her. “Why would you even think that?!”
“No reason,” Kate tries to brush it off. He’s still staring at her concernedly.
“Kate... You know you can tell me anything, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know,” she says. His eyes beg her to continue, but she’s saved by the bell as her surgeon and her father walk in the door.
“Katie!” Her father hurries to her side. “Sorry I wasn’t there when you woke up, I just stepped out for a few minutes...”
“It’s okay, Dad,” she says.
“How’re you feeling?” Funny, everyone seems to ask that.
“A bit dizzy, but it’s getting better,” she replies.
“That should disappear in a few minutes, once your system completely clears itself of the sedatives,” Dr. Kovaks informs them. “How’s the pain, on a scale of one to ten?”
Dr. Kovaks smiles. “I’ll put you down for a three then.” She gives him an annoyed growl sound in the back of her throat in response. He says in an undertone to Castle, who’s standing next to him, “She wouldn’t even give me a ten with a fresh bullet hole in her chest.”
“That sounds like her,” Castle agrees before turning back to Kate and letting his eyes sparkle at her. She resists the urge to roll her own. Barely.
“I suppose you want to know your prognosis, Detective Beckett?” Dr. Kovaks asks, looking at her expectantly.
“Well, as you haven’t coughed yet I think we have that under control. So far as your wounds go, the incision on your side fared much worse than the one located on your stomach. We’ve stitched them both up, but the side incision tore a bit deeper than the stomach, which is why it bled out so profusely. All in all, though, I don’t think you’ve done yourself much permanent harm. The scars might be a little bit rougher, but beyond that you should heal up just fine.”
“Will it take longer?”
“The individual cuts, yes. But if you’re referring to it delaying you getting back to your job, the answer is no. The bullet wound was the most grievous, and at most you’ve set yourself back seven to ten days on those other wounds. You still have four weeks to go before you can even try reexaminations, and I’m sure Dr. Sven wouldn’t have signed off on training of any kind until two weeks from now. Long story short, your recovery is still on track.”
Kate can’t help the smile that blooms over her face. “Thank you.”
“And your fever’s broken as well, so I think we just want to keep you in here another night before releasing you.” Dr. Kovaks taps his clipboard. “I’ll leave you three to talk, but try to get some rest as well. Don’t wear her out.” He directs his last statement with a friendly glare towards Castle and Jim.
“We won’t,” her father promises. He shakes the doctor’s hand and thanks him for all he’s done. Castle offers him his seat and Jim accepts after the surgeon leaves, with Castle leaning against the wall in front of her. “Katie, I’m glad you’re okay.” She nods. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if…”
“I’m not going anywhere, Dad,” she assures him. “Thank you for coming. You don’t have to stay, though, if you have to go to work…”
“No, just a court appearance at…” his eyes drop to his watch, and he leaps out of his seat, causing her to flinch a little at the sudden movement. “—right now!”
“It’s okay, Dad, go,” she says with the hint of an amused smile.
“Sorry, Katie,” he says. “It was nice to see you again, Rick, although hopefully next time it’ll be under less perilous circumstances.” The door shuts behind him and she sighs, readjusting herself on the pillows. The bed is raised at the head, so it almost feels like she’s sliding downward. She supposes it’s to help with the coughing, but she doesn’t like the sensation of being perched so precariously.
“I’ll keep you company; don’t worry,” Castle says lightly, reclaiming his stool at her bedside. “Mother and Alexis know about this—they came home and saw the blood and called me—so I’m all yours.”
She feigns confusion. “Who’s Alexis?”
The smile drops from his face so fast it’s like a bad stop-motion movie. “What?”
She grins. “Just kidding, sorry.” The look on his face was priceless.
“Not funny, Kate,” he mutters. “Do you know how hard my heart is pumping right now? Honestly, amnesia is like the worst thing that could happen right now. Everything we’ve been through and every memory we’ve made—gone in a flash.” Her smile falters. “Kate, seriously! You scared me; don’t do that!”
“Sorry,” she apologizes for real this time, directing her eyes down towards her blankets. “But, I mean, what do I have left but gallows humor?” She flicks her eyes up to meet his for just a second, but in that second a universe full of understanding passes between them. She’d said it in a mildly sarcastic tone, but that only made more prominent the fear and hurt lying beneath it.
“Kate,” Castle says in a voice barely above a whisper. “Please tell me what’s troubling you.” She’s lost in the pools of sincerity in his eyes, in the soft, pleading tone of his voice. “Please let me in.”
“Castle, I’m scared,” her voice breaks. “What if something like this happens again, only it’s worse next time? I can’t do anything right! I don’t have any control over my life anymore; it’s like someone’s attached me to strings and like a marionette I have to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over!”
“Kate,” he whispers, “Why do you think this is going to happen again? It’s not going to, okay? And if it does, I’ll be right here with you. Just like always.”
“No, Castle, you don’t understand,” she says, tears brimming at her eyelids with one escapee already making a trail down her face, “Every move I make, I end up here!”
Castle frowns slightly, and she can tell he’s confused. “What are you talking about? Please, tell me.” He smoothes back her hair, holding onto her hand like a lifeline.
“Castle, it’s an endless cycle. I can’t stop it. You can’t stop it. No one can.”
“When have you been here before, Kate?” He forces her to look into his eyes.
She chokes on her first words, but she gets them out. “I’ve been here six times before.” She barely registers the surprise on his face. “The first time, I was nineteen. It was six months after my mom died, and…I had taken to riding my motorcycle...recklessly. Weaving in and out of traffic, daredevil stunts. I wasn't trying to kill myself; I promise you I wasn't. I was trying to see how much the universe would take from me—how much God would take from me. And that day, I found out.” She gulps. “I was thrown from the bike, landed in a dumpster more than ten feet away. If that garbage truck had come two minutes earlier, I would have died. They took me here in an ambulance and called my father. And when he came to get me… It was the first time I had ever seen him flat-out drunk.”
“Oh, Kate, I’m sorry,” Castle breathes. He opens his mouth to tell her that she doesn’t have to continue, but she doesn’t want to stop now. She wants him to understand this.
“The second and third times were during my days at NYU, when I came home and couldn’t wake my father up because he was passed out from the alcohol. The third time was during my senior year, just before finals, and they told me that he had to stop drinking or his liver would be permanently damaged. I packed my bags and I left, hoping that would force him into sobriety, but I got a call a few weeks later saying I needed to come to the hospital right away. He had lapsed into a coma for a few hours. I thought I was going to lose him.”
She has to stop there, wipe her cheeks with her un-IVed hand. “The fifth…when I was a beat cop, I had a partner who rode with me. His name was Brian Vaughan, and he was hit with a metal bat ten times before I arrived at the scene and shot the perp. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that, he was supposed to be with me, but…another officer’s partner was out sick that night and he volunteered to take his place for a complaint call. I was five minutes out when he radioed for help, but by the time I got there she was already down and the man was hitting Vaughan… He died at the hospital ten hours later in ICU, and I stood in the waiting room the whole time.”
Kate swallows, hard. “There was a reason I worked alone when you first arrived at the precinct. I believed people couldn’t be trusted to stick around, and it would be better if it were only up to me and my own self. Or maybe part of it was me believing that I was the foul ingredient, the one that got my mom killed, the one that drove my dad to drink, the one that allowed Vaughan to die. It’s irrational, I know, but that’s what I thought at the time. I didn’t want you there, Castle, because I was expecting you to leave, or, if that didn’t happen, something to make you leave. That’s why ‘always’ means so much to me, because after 1999 you’re the only one I’ve ever trusted with that word. It’s a promise, and you’re the only one I trust not to break it.”
She pauses for a steadying breath, but pushes on determinedly. “You asked why I thought every move I make leads back here. I drove recklessly, I ended up here. After my accident, I decided to stop that—to get my life out of its downward spiral—and take responsibility, but then I was back here with my dad. We finally got him sober, and I became a cop. Vaughan was taken in an ambulance to this hospital, and I was here when he died because of that son-of-a-bitch with a baseball bat. Five years later, I looked into my mom’s case, and that got me shot. They brought me here. Then, with you, I finally decided to give it a rest: I stored away that file on my computer after Alexis came home, and this happens. It feels like I can’t do anything right. All roads lead to here.”
“I’m so sorry, Kate,” Castle whispers, pressing his lips to her forehead. “But just remember, no matter how many times the universe takes you back to this hospital, I’ll always be there to bring you back out again. Always.”
“Thank you.” Her voice is more of a sob than a whisper at this point. “Thank you.”